Dublin’s Rough Magic theatre company seldom fail to surprise. And Jezebel by newcomer Mark Cantan is no exception.
In the past when Rough Magic have visited London, they’v either brought intrinsically Irish productions (plays by Billy Roche or Stewart Parker) or classics dynamically re-worked. Under visionary artistic director Lynne Parker, their aim though has always ranged beyond the merely nationalistic or parochial.
Jezebel however is something else again. Styled `a comedy of manners’, it’s sharp, funny and modern and could as easily have originated in any city in the British Isles, in north America, Europe or beyond. Its theme is timeless and Cantan – a product of Rough Magic’s `seed-bed’ programme – has put his finger very precisely on modern relationships and its sometimes surprising permutations.
Peter Daly and Margaret McAuliffe play Alan and Robin, symbolic of many similar kinds of young couples. Cantan charts their relationship from initial interest to longterm relationship with acute, very funny observation, highlighting the way words are constantly prey to double meanings according to their emotional context.
A third character, Jezebel, lurks on the periphery. Played with zany openness by Valerie O’Connor, Jezebel and Alan and Robin’s lives gradually converge as Cantan introduces the unusual element of troilism or threesomes.
Not a subject, you’d have thought, that would automatically lend itself to approbation in Irish society – at least not in old catholic Ireland – Cantan’s treatment of it and Daly, McAuliffe, O’Connor and the production’s original director, Jose Miguel Jiménez’s wonderful control make it a bon bouffe that owes much of its perfection to the beauty of its playing.
Whilst reclaiming the idea of Jezebel from her femme fatale mythology, such is the mileage inherent in the notion of a threesome together with a steady sense of dishonesty that runs alongside this couple’s eagerness to keep their relationship alive by introducing another, Cantan’s comedy eventually turns into sophisticated sexual farce culminating in an extraordinary scene where both women are giving birth simultaneously, the father, Alan going between each.
A sustained piece of high comic playing, it would do credit to Feydeau or let it also be said, Ray Cooney on a good day! As entertaining as it is original.